Bush Theatre Summer 2018; National Theatre Summer 2019
Jellyfish is a sweet, well-intentioned little play whose only fault is that it ultimately has nothing to say. But its puppy-dog harmlessness might be just what you want for an undemanding summer evening's entertainment.
A 27-year-old woman with Down's Syndrome lives a happy life within the limits of her capabilities, protected by her devoted mother. And then daughter falls in love with a 'normal' guy.
Mother's admirable concern and protectiveness take on tinges of suspicion, jealousy and fear of losing domination over her daughter as she sees only the dangers in the younger woman's moving beyond her control.
Will the mother's fears, first that the man will exploit her daughter and later that he won't live up to the task of being responsible for her, be proven right? Will the daughter be capable of navigating the emotional and practical hazards of love, marriage and pregnancy?
The problem with Ben Weatherill's play is that it would take a much more adventurous playwright to take the action into any really dark places, and so the optimistic and politically correct happy ending is never, ever, ever in doubt.
I have no question that in the real world many people with Down's Syndrome are capable of rich, full and 'normal' lives, and being assured of that is warming and uplifting.
But it is not particularly dramatic, and Jellyfish is so unwaveringly convinced from the start that all will be well that there's really no play here.
Another problem is that you will almost certainly experience a sense of deja vu as you watch Jellyfish.
I first saw this play – no, not literally this play, but one with essentially the same story and the same positive statement – as a made-for-TV issue-of-the-week American television movie in the 1970s, and it or something very much like it has been done many times since. (It is not an extremely distant cousin to Rainman.)
I am not accusing Weatherill of copying, but just pointing out that there is nothing really new, original or particularly timely in what he has to tell us.
Indeed, you may find that one of Jellyfish's strengths lies in its vague air of being dated, as it reminds us that old mindsets and prejudices continue to linger even in these enlightened days.
Director Tim Hoare's cast betrayed some opening-night nerves in a pattern of missed or jumped cues, but will quickly settle into their roles. And if all you want is a happy, never self-doubting assurance that all is right with the world, Jellyfish will please you.
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Review - Jellyfish - Bush Theatre 2018